We’ve written at length in the past about how the life of a startup entrepreneur is one filled with failure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 50% of small businesses that open their doors today will make it to the coveted five-year mark.
Cash flow problems, a product in search of a market, a general inexperience and even a classic case of “wrong place, wrong time” are all major contributing factors.
However, we’ve ALSO written extensively about how failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Failure is a learning opportunity if you choose to look at it that way.
It’s not necessarily “I failed nine times before I was successful on my tenth try.” It’s more about “I tried nine paths that didn’t work out, all of which led me to discover the final, successful one.”
So IF the life of an entrepreneur is one where failure is pretty much a guarantee, but failure in and of itself is also a good thing, then it stands to reason that you should WANT to fail as quickly and as often as you can.
This simple idea is at the heart of the mantra “test fast, fail faster.” In other words, you can truly never take that “next step” too soon in the world of startups – even if it’s the wrong one – because of the valuable insight and experience resting just on the other side, no matter what the outcome may be.
It’s Time to Hit the Gas
First, a note about perspective. The mantra of “test fast, fail faster” isn’t necessarily about the bigger picture. Instead, it’s about the smaller ones – the countless decisions that you have to make on a daily basis that may not seem like too much on their own, but when taken together all add up to something much more powerful.
What you’re trying to do is uncover the right formula that you’ll need to follow as you continue to grow and evolve. Naturally, that’s going to take a little – or a lot – of trial and error.
The term itself comes from the world of software development – a space that shares more in common with being an entrepreneur than you realize. The logic is that even before a piece of software is officially ready, you should start testing. Doing so unlocks a number of clear benefits:
- It’s incredibly cost effective. The sooner you can find a potential problem just waiting to happen, the sooner you can correct it. Not only will this help mitigate long-term risk, but it’ll also make sure you’re not making important decisions based on previously undiscovered missteps.
- It gives you a chance to see how others perceive you at ALL stages of the startup process, not just at launch. Ask yourself the question “if we had to go to market today, what would happen?” This is a perfect opportunity to gather feedback and make adjustments when the stakes are still relatively low.
- Everything is on the table. The more you’re willing to accept failure as inevitable, the more you’re willing to really try to come up with some creative solutions to interesting problems. You’re willing to try anything – which is absolutely where innovation tends to thrive.
Step Outside of Yourself
Part of the reason why this approach works so well is because it allows you to get out of your own head. As an entrepreneur, the instinct to overthink things is a mighty one. If you dwell on every little decision until you’re absolutely positive you’re making the right one, you’re doing much worse than just wasting time.
You’re prematurely closing the door on all of the OTHER possibilities that may work just as well or, in some ways, even better. You’re artificially stifling innovation by taking the “safe route” – something you can’t really afford to do in an environment where you’re trying to carve out your own niche and hold onto it for dear life.
So what do you do? You make firm decisions, you pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and your course correct as needed. You welcome every learning opportunity that you can get your hands on – even the ones that hurt – and you use that information to strengthen the foundation you’re building everything on top of in the first place.
At the very least, a path fraught with failure and peril will give you an excellent, compelling story to turn into a great presentation with a tool like Visme (which I’m the founder of) to win people over as you get closer to launch. Even from the perspective of visual content marketing, failure is still the gift that keeps on giving long after you’ve licked your wounds and started moving forward again.
Failure Doesn’t Prevent Success. It Demands It
Again: “figuring things out the hard way” is essentially a guarantee in the life of a startup founder. You’re going to learn by doing and more often than not, you need to figure out all the ways NOT to do something before the path to success becomes crystal clear.
So the answer isn’t to attempt to avoid failure or even to mitigate risk – assuming that you’ll ever be able to do so completely shows that you’re about to lose a game you never really understood in the first place.
Instead, go in the opposite direction. Test fast, fail faster. Get your failures out of the way as fast as you humanly can, as doing so unlocks the learning opportunity presented by failure much faster as well.
Provided, of course, that you actually know how to take the right lessons away from such a precarious situation. So long as you’re willing to accept each misstep as constructive criticism from your harshest judges of all – your industry and your audience – you’ll create for yourself the type of situation where your eventual success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”
About the Author:
Payman Taei is the founder of Visme, an easy-to-use online tool to create engaging presentations, infographics, and other forms of visual content. He is also the founder of HindSite Interactive, an award-winning Maryland based digital agency specializing in website design, user experience and web app development.